The latest historical offering from Bookouture is out today, Secrets Of The Tower by Debbie Rix. Debbie has very kindly joined me on the blog today to talk about the inspiration behind the historical heroine, Berta who is central to the plot of Secrets Of The Tower.
Over to you Debbie.
The moment I knew that Berta di Bernardo would be the heroine of my novel ‘Secrets of the Tower’, was when a wonderful professor of medieval history in Pisa dismissed her with the words ‘ Oh the widow – she left the money for the Tower to be built – that’s all…’.
‘But why?’ I asked, not unreasonably. And this charming, erudite man looked a little blank. ‘Piety?’ he suggested a little uncertainly.
I have replicated that scene almost word for word in the novel as my modern day heroine Sam goes in search for more information about this mysterious medieval lady. In many ways, Sam’s journey is similar journey to the one I took myself. She, like me, becomes fascinated with the woman who made the Tower of Pisa possible.
Surprised by my interest, Professor Pierotti rummaged around on his desk and found a copy of Berta’s will – fortunately translated from an ancient Tuscan /Latin dialect into modern Italian. She left sixty soldi, or coins, to the city of Pisa to start work on the new belltower that would grace the Piazza del Duomo. The will had some interesting witnesses - the notary to the Emperor Frederick, and a master mason called Gerardo di Gerardo. I did a bit of digging and discovered that Gerardo had worked on the tower, and had been assistant to the famous architect Deotisalvi who designed the Baptistery in Pisa. Deotisalvi is also sometimes credited with designing the Tower, but there is no real evidence that he did so.
I was intrigued, not least by the presence of these two men at her death bed. The presence of the notary indicated that she was a woman of some substance and influence. As for the builder… were they just friends, colleagues or something more?
Unable to discover much more about my main character, I was determined to find out as much as possible about the city, its people, and the period I was writing about. Professor Pierotti was hugely helpful of course, explaining what life was like for the ordinary Pisan in 1150. I spent weeks in the British Library poring over medieval texts,digging up information about the real merchants and traders who dominated this seafaring power.
I studied dress styles, jewellery, hairstyles and household objects of the period. I trawled culinary reference books and kept a list of typical medieval Italian dishes.I researched the medical practices of the day – most of which involved herbs and plants. The architecture, which perhaps is the other ‘star’ of my novel -was also was carefully researched; as the daughter of two architects it was vital that I didn’t make any errors there.
The pressure to try to provide an accurate and truthful landscape for my characters was enormous, so much so, that after months of research, I felt paralysed, unable to begin the writing process. But finally I realised that people throughout the ages have loved, lost, given birth, died… and the feelings that accompany those life-changing moments are the same now as they have always been. A historical novel is really just a love story, or a mystery, or a thriller in a different setting to the one we live in now.
I am already planning my next novel but have not yet found my historical heroine. I am drawn to the people who history has forgotten; the people who have had an impact on the world, but whose story has not yet been told. I just hope that the next lady, whoever she is, provides me with more than just her will to work with.
About The Book
Two women, centuries apart, bound together by the secrets of one of the most iconic buildings ever created.
Sam Campbell sits by her husband’s hospital bed. Far from home and her children, she must care for Michael who is recovering from a stroke. A man she loves deeply. A man who has been unfaithful to her.
Alone and in need of distraction, Sam decides to pick up Michael’s research into the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Immersing herself in the ancient city, she begins to piece together the mystery behind the creation of the tower, and discovers the woman who history forgot…
Berta di Bernardo, the wife of a rich merchant, sits in her chamber, dressing for a dinner party. A gathering that will change the course of her life and a young master mason, Gerardo, forever.
A strong, intelligent woman, Berta’s passion for architecture also draws her closer to Gerardo. As she embarks on a love affair, her maid Aurelia also becomes spellbound by the same man. Yet for Berta, her heart’s desire is to see the Tower built, and her determination knows no bounds…
A richly drawn and absorbing novel of passion and power, love and redemption that will captivate fans of Victoria Hislop, Tracy Chevalier and Kate Furnivall.